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Live in the moment — or the fish will get away

Posted on May 25, 2022

Community SportsColumns
The author attempting to fly-fish on Whitetop Laurel Creek near Damascus, Va.

Tabitha Durham | Special to the Times

The author attempting to fly-fish on Whitetop Laurel Creek near Damascus, Va.

paul@wilsontimes.com | 265-7808

Paul Durham

Paul Durham

A couple of years ago I started writing about my fishing misadventures here just to have something for people to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, when not much in the way of sports was going on. I’m not a fisherman, even though I’ve learned a LOT over the last two years, and most of it still confuses and confounds me. But I learned that whenever I can go fishing — even when I don’t catch anything — I still enjoy being outside and enjoying the outdoors. So whenever I can take a day or three off and can afford a tank of gas, we like to go on family camping trips with fishing as a central activity.

This past weekend, my wife, Tabitha; our son, Bennett, and I headed up to the Damascus, Virginia, area, which is more famously known for the Virginia Creeper Trail bicycle path that covers nearly 35 minutes from the top of Whitetop Mountain down into Damascus and on to Abingdon. As a native eastern North Carolinian who is still learning how to fish for trout and use a fly rod, any stream or river that has a bike path is a bonus because you definitely have to move around if you want to catch trout.

So, we arrived in Abingdon, hit the Virginia Creeper Fly Shop (and please visit this place and talk to the proprietor if you love fishing stories!) and the grocery store for a few camping items before heading over to the campground. We were able to set up our tent and canopy and hit Whitetop Laurel, the nearby trout stream, for a couple or three hours of line-wetting before sunset.

The last time I was fly-fishing, on the Davidson River south of Asheville last month, my son and I each had one of our best days ever. When I hit the water Friday with my fly rod, I was so sure I was going to catch more trout. The weather for it was perfect and the stream had been stocked.

Sure enough, within my first 10 casts I saw my indicator duck sharply below the current and then my line went crazy, zigzagging over the stream bed. At first I yelled, “Fish! Fish!” before realizing Bennett had moved around the bend and couldn’t hear me. Then I started thinking about my net, which I had not even taken off my shoulder and put where I could get it quickly. Then I wondered if I brought my phone since we were only doing catch-and-release that day.

Before I knew it, that fish — about a foot-long rainbow trout, as it would turn out shortly — had swum right up to my feet as though it expected to be netted. Since I wasn’t ready, it took off with the line on which I had foolishly relaxed my grip and zipped back toward the middle of the stream. I stopped the line from going out but, by then, the rainbow had ducked behind a small boulder. Instead of walking toward him and slowly keeping the pressure on the line, I panicked and just yanked him over the boulder.

For a split second, Mr. Trout was atop that boulder and he looked me in the eye, as if to say, “You’re an idiot,” then he cut loose and was gone.

He took my fly and I just was left with a “rubber legs” bug thingie on my two-fly set-up. I fished for a while with just that but the word was out below the water. I got not even a bite. Finally, after rigging up a nymph to go with the rubber legs and moving to another spot, I did catch another rainbow, albeit a wild one that was only 5 inches long.

That’s OK, I was just happy to catch another fish.

Bennett caught a few trout each day he fished but I didn’t catch any more fish either of the last two days. In the end, I was glad that I yanked the rainbow on the boulder because I was able to get a good look at it. In a way, it wasn’t much different than catch-and-release so I’m not sweating it.

But that fish did teach me a lesson I’ve been taught many times in my 56 years: Live in the moment and pay attention to what you’re doing.

I spent the whole drive to Virginia telling myself that there’s no telling when I’ll be able to go fly-fishing again with the price of gas what it is, so try to enjoy every single minute of the trip. Then when I finally was in the very position that I dream about for weeks on end — having a nice trout on the end of my fly rod — I was unprepared and thinking about taking a picture. Here’s a rule to live by: Get the fish in the net before you think about taking a picture.

I’m sure anyone who has any experience fishing could tell me that, but it hits harder when you learn it the hard way because you’re hard-headed, as my parents used to tell me at times. But I’ll be honest, maybe coming away from Whitetop Laurel with a greater understanding of living in the moment and staying focused was what I was supposed to catch. That is worth far more than a fish picture. Just the time I was able to spend with my wife and our fast-growing son was definitely worth so much more than a Facebook post.

We probably won’t go fly-fishing again until fall but there will be plenty of chances to get our lines wet before then between here and the Atlantic Ocean. And I’m sure I’ll have a few more lessons to learn.

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